It may be the holy grail for working parents, and amid a fresh call for the government to conduct research into it, a four-day workweek may still not be for everyone, writes Amanda Cassidy
“I’ve been working there 10 years, the least they can do is take me back on a four-day week,” one of my book club mums declares as she prepares for discussions about returning to work after her maternity leave.
Having one day in a week as a ‘life-day’ where you catch up on admin, bring the children to the dentist, or book in your car for the NCT is a rare luxury when you are a working parent.
Many companies fear employees will skive off or start a precedent. But the reality is often completely different.
New Zealand based company Perpetual Guardian sparked global media fascination with their flexible work model after they successfully trialled and implemented the four-day week, resulting in a 20% lift in employee productivity, a 27% reduction in work stress levels, and a 45% increase in employee work-life balance.
Owner Andrew Barnes wrote a book about championing the concept called The 4 Day Week. "What started as a simple experiment in a single company has become a global movement," said Barnes. "The four-day week is a big idea for the 2020 decade."
Barnes noted the increasing number of companies, brands, and public service organisations that are experimenting or implementing four-day weeks, as well as advocacy groups involving business, unions, political parties, academics, environmental, and women's groups globally.
Here in Ireland, many smaller firms have introduced the model. They say working fewer hours improves a worker’s productivity, their commitment, and their happiness. Irish trade unions have also put pressure on employers to switch to this model – which was made part of the Labour policy ahead of the UK general election.
A new campaign – 4-day week Ireland was launched earlier in 2020 and this weekend, there are reports that the government should conduct research into the impact it will have on Irish society. It is made up of coalitions between businesses and unions promoting the benefits of a shorter working week with the same pay.
Margaret Cox is the Director of ICE groups, a Galway-based nurse recruitment firm that bought into it. “ICE group went to it in July. We followed the model set by New Zealand," she told Newstalk. "The idea is for four days work, a three day weekend, a five-day pay and 100% customer satisfaction."
And she says, it seemed to have paid off.
“In terms of customer satisfaction – we've had no drop in service or complaints. We've seen a greater awareness of the benefits it is giving to staff, morale went up, the energy has gone up, and at the end of six months, we are beginning to see an increase in productivity. We like to think that by changing the way we work, we are changing the lives of those working with us."
Companies like ICE can even offer employees the choice of two types of working weeks – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday working days and taking Friday, Saturday, Sunday as their weekend. Or, working Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday with the weekend Saturday, Sunday, Monday.
But for those who do have the choice, what day is the best to "take off"?
“Friday is play-date day,” explains one mum at the school gate who works a four-day week. “I thought it was better to extend the weekend when I approached my boss about my hours."
“Wednesday is king,” points out another friend who works in a solicitor’s firm in Dublin city centre. "You get a breather mid-week, you get to catch up on life and you can maintain the energy needed in a very demanding job."
Surprisingly, a lot of those I spoke to waxed lyrical about having Mondays to themselves. “I don’t get that Sunday fear anymore,” someone points out. “It is a really productive day in general, everyone is fresh and ready to tackle the world so I get a huge amount done on a Monday. By Friday, I’m exhausted and I feel like work has sucked the life out of me.”
Dawna Ballard is a Communications professor at the University of Texas and a scholar of Chronemics (the study of time and communication). He told Quartz magazine that research shows that Wednesday is the best day for taking a break.
“When you know that you only have to power through two days before you get a break, you'll be more focused and productive," he explained. "Plus you may have more options when you are available mid-week."
Will it catch on?
Whether or not the four-day working week catches on here remains to be seen. There is increasing pressure on companies to trial it, at the very least. There’s an Arabian proverb that reminds us that ‘every day of your life is a page of your history’ so fighting to rebalance our life versus our work is a fight worth having.
Perhaps in this new era of digital staffing, freelance ‘floating staff’, remote workers and measuring productivity over hours put in, things will change.
But the cynic in me can’t imagine a world where employers pay their staff the same rate and allow them a duvet day.
Image via Unsplash.com
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